NEW YORK (Aug. 20)
A cease-fire might be in place between Israel and Hezbollah, but the conflict between the two sides is far from being resolved. That fact was made clear over the weekend, after Israeli troops carried out a raid on southern Lebanon.
During Saturday’s raid, an Israeli officer from an elite commando unit was killed and two others injured. Israeli sources said the operation was aimed at preventing ammunition and rockets entering Lebanon.
The covert mission was stymied when Hezbollah forces identified the commando unit.
A firefight ensued and four Hezbollah members were reportedly killed.
A statement from the office of the U.N. secretary-general, Kofi Annan, called the raid a violation of the U.N.-brokered cease-fire, which went into effect early last week.
Lebanon’s prime minister, Fouad Siniora, called the raid a “flagrant violation” of the cease-fire.
The Lebanese government has threatened to stop the deployment of Lebanese forces to the South of the country if it does not receive satisfactory explanations for the raid.
But an Israeli government official speaking on condition of anonymity told Israel Radio that neither UNIFIL nor the Lebanese army has shown any willingness to impose the embargo on supplying arms to Hezbollah or any readiness to confront those who violate the embargo.
Also Sunday, Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, said that Israel would not accept peacekeepers in southern Lebanon from countries that do not have diplomatic relations with Israel.
Three Muslim countries that are in that category — Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh — are among the countries to have offered troops for the expanded force, considered key to reducing tensions in southern Lebanon.
Olmert reportedly spoke Sunday with Italy’s president, Romano Prodi, about the possibility of Italian troops leading the force.
Meanwhile, the Israeli army’s chief of staff declared an Israeli victory in the war with Hezbollah.
But Cabinet members suggested the results were murky at best.
Lt. Gen Dan Halutz told the Cabinet on Sunday that Israel had won the war on “points” even if there had been no “knockout.”
Halutz pointed to Israel’s damage to the Hezbollah infrastructure as evidence of victory. Cabinet ministers, however, pointed out that Hezbollah’s prestige within the Arab world had soared and that Iran and Syria remained committed supporters of the group.
Also, Israel failed to win the release of two soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah, the ministers said.